The Islanders’ defensemen have accounted for roughly 30 percent of the team’s shots through the first four games of the first-round series against the Penguins, and it’s played a crucial role in balancing the offensive responsibilities throughout the lineup.
Of the Isles’ 135 shots this series entering play Monday, 41 have come from defensemen, along with two goals and seven assists. Scott Mayfield had led the defense with 13 shots, plus a goal and three assists. But the offensive contributions from the top four in particular have been invaluable.
“It’s important,” head coach Barry Trotz said of the defense’s part in the offense. “I think that teams do a really good job of taking care of things around the net a lot more so in the playoffs than they do in the regular season. The forwards come a little deeper and a little more committed, all that stuff. You have to spread it out a little bit.
“I think the defense has the mindset of shooting the puck more, I think the forwards have the mindset of getting to the net a little bit more as well. So it’s important, it’s extremely important to get contributions through your whole lineup, not just your forwards.”
The top defensive pairing of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock had combined for a goal, an assist and 16 shots. While Pulock had the goal and assist, Pelech had totaled 11 shots on goal in those first four games.
“I think it’s huge, creating point shots and creating other ways to score,” said Nick Leddy, who had one assist and four shots. “Just to get guys moving around the offensive zone, I think that’s huge. I think the forwards have been doing a great job also getting us the puck early and giving us time to find lanes.”
The winner of the Islanders-Penguins series will face the Bruins in the second round, after Boston defeated the Capitals in five games Sunday. Since Trotz won the Stanley Cup in Washington in 2018, the Capitals have won just five playoff games.
“Everybody saw that that series ended,” Trotz said. “Everybody’s conscious of it. But I don’t think it gives you extra motivation, I just think that you have to focus on the moment and the task at hand.”
Trotz planned to roll with the same skaters for the fifth straight game Monday night. He said that everybody was healthy and available, but noted that he expected depth to play a role this postseason.
“I don’t think anybody’s having a really bad stretch, but some guys we can get more out of,” he said. “Depth is going to come into play at some point. We’re fortunate to have some of that with some experience, like a guy like Travis [Zajac], for instance. Someone goes down at center ice, I think that’s where he’s really going to benefit us. If someone goes down on the wing, he can play wing, but I think he’s better at center ice. We have some options on the wing.”
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